Nurturing Creativity

nurturing creativity

Is it possible to teach or enhance creativity? Or is it a skill that some are born with or an innate ability that if properly nurtured only matures in some but not others?

Research psychologists with an interest in creativity seek empirically based answers to these questions. They research how people cultivate skills in order to produce novel and original ideas, develop innovative solutions to life’s toughest problems, or simply live more creative, fulfilling, and meaningful lives. (see Psychology of Creativity.)

Yet these researchers differ on how creativity seems natural to some, yet such a struggle if not a deficit in others. And some only study eminent creativity or world-changing creativity, while others specialize in personal creativity for all.

Some believe it’s the environment that greatly influences creativity, others investigate genetics, and some focus on personality traits. For more information see social psychology and creativity and identifying creative people. Still others research specific forms of thinking and cognition and how it relates to the brain’s anatomy.

At this point, most researchers of this topic agree that creativity is extremely complex, and probably a unique combination of all these factors – and more. Most researchers believe, however, that all individuals have an ability to express themselves – and their lives – creatively.

While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die – whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness.
-Gilda Radner

Some develop theories on how individuals are able to reignite or nurture creative thinking, a skill that most people believe they lack or has lessened over time.

Creative Behaviors

Robert Epstein, PhD, has developed a theory based exclusively on behavior and skill building. Called the Generativity Theory of Creativity, Epstein proposes that novel behavior is based on the “dynamic interactions among previously established behaviors.”

Additionally this University of California, San Diego psychology professor and researcher believes that creative competencies or skill sets determine creative expression, and everyone has the ability to develop these behaviors.

Through his research presented in the Creativity Research Journal in “Measuring and Training Creativity Competencies: Validation of a New Test,” Epstein has identified four competencies that individuals must acquire to stimulate creative expression:


Because original, unusual and novel ideas occur randomly, at all times of the day, and in all situations, individuals known for their creativity carry with them notebooks, laptops, and recorders for capturing sudden insights and discoveries. This includes keeping a notebook or recorder next to them on a bedside table for recording dreams.


Problems that haven’t any clear-cut answers bother some individuals, causing them great pain and frustration. However, despite how unsettling and painful, solving open-ended problems nurtures creativity. Those who develop their creative-thinking skills actually seek out these kinds of problems, working through any uncomfortable or painful feelings these problems present.


Some describe creative individuals as endlessly curious. But their creativity goes beyond mere curiosity as they push themselves to read, explore, and experience things outside of their expertise, training, or even comfort zone. For instance, broadening means going to a symphony or opera instead of a rock concert, or for dancers or economists, reading books on physics or chemistry.


Stimulating, creative environments, such as a desk with colorful objects, toys, and pictures, or dinners with interesting individuals, or visiting new countries or cultures are all ways to nurture and grow creative minds and thinking. Creative individuals will frequently change the décor of their surroundings, or seek out new friends with whom they have little in common.

Epstein states that by strengthening these four areas, any individual can become more creative. He has developed games and exercises for this type of strengthening. In the American Psychological Association (APA) article “The Science of Creativity,” it stated that some of these games and exercises were part of creativity training for 74 employees of the city of Orange County, Calif. The article, appearing on the APA website, reported that eight months after the training, these employees increased new ideas by 55%.

And these new ideas increased revenue for the city by $600,000, and reduced costs by about $3.5 million. This clearly exemplifies the importance of developing creativity that has direct and immediate payoffs.

Yet Epstein maintains that because society doesn’t place a premium on the teaching of creative skills or competencies, few learn them, leaving most to erroneously believe that some special creativity gene exists.

“There’s not really any evidence that one person is inherently more creative than another,” Epstein states in the APA article. For more information see creativity in education.

Everyday Creativity

Another prominent creativity researcher and proponent of creativity for all, Ruth Richards of Saybrook University and Harvard Medical School, coined the term “everyday creativity”.

Richards has studied creativity for over 35 years, and in her many research articles and best-selling books on the topic, she maintains that every person must use creativity everyday in order to survive – and thrive.

“Our creativity may involve anything from making breakfast to solving a major conflict with one’s boss,” she writes in a chapter on everyday creativity for “The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity.”

Researchers who focus on everyday creativity, or ways to nurture or bring out the creativity in everyone, label this “little-c creativity,” or “mini-c creativity.”

Richards’ research points to how individuals employ creativity even when they don’t recognize that it’s a creative act, and even describe themselves as uncreative types.

Everyday individuals must solve a multitude of problems, from opening the refrigerator and finding that there’s no milk or eggs for breakfast, to problems that often seem out of an individual’s control, such as living with a chronic illness or how to cope with a divorce, or the death of a spouse.

Those who have developed ways to creatively think their way out of problems and situations – especially those without definitive answers -manage challenges and change better than others, coping better, and essentially live happier and more productive lives.

Creativity for Health

In other studies, Richards has shown how using purposeful, creative types of activities for individuals also has significant benefits that go beyond happiness, improving physical health as well.

Her discussion in “The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity,” Richards describes an experiment of using expressive writing that actually affected T-cell function, indices of immune functioning and competence.

Researchers asked a group of college students to write or journal about a traumatic or troubling experiences, such as starting college, conflicts with parents or significant others, death, divorce, and other types of experienced trauma. They wrote over the course of four days for 20 minutes a day.

They compared this group against a control group of students who they asked to write simply about neutral events.

Immediately following the journaling, the writers of trauma felt anxious, troubled, and some reported feelings of depression. However, these feelings didn’t last. Six weeks after the experiment, they reported more feelings of happiness or psychological well-being than the control group, and they made fewer visits to the college health center.

And their white blood cells, or T-cells, cells important for fighting infections, were more robust and overall stronger than the control group’s.

“At best, this is about resilience-where the capacity to face, address, integrate, and transform one’s worst fears and darkest moments can, going forward, lead to new strengths and empowerment. One can even learn to gain pleasure from such mastery.”

Richards writes that this type of catharsis could be generalized to include participating on blogs, Facebook and other types of social networking.

In short, psychological researchers such as Epstein and Richards believe that everyone has the ability to think creatively, and everyone has the ability to nurture and enhance their creativity.

Those who are interested in how to help everyone create individually rewarding, more productive, interesting, and healthier lives should consider a career in the field of the psychology of creativity.

Classes in psychology are essential, and many programs in Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Media Psychology, and Cognitive Psychology all include specialties in creativity. Creativity certificates and endorsements are also available at some schools.

For more information, request information from schools offering degrees in psychology.

Tips and Tricks for Enhancing Your Creativity

  • Schedule some quiet time each day, every couple of days, or once a week if that’s all that’s possible. Just breathe, daydream, or doodle. Turn off all electronic devices and just relax.
  • Keep a basket of toys in your living room. Fill it with Lego’s, crayons, coloring books, papers, scissors, assorted games, and toy instruments. Play with these toys whenever you have a spare moment, or instead of watching television or opening your laptop.
  • Put on a CD or crank up your iTunes on your computer and dance.
  • Garden. Keep a small area in your yard to plant flowers, or if you don’t have a yard, plant flowers in pots or other creative holders, such as old wagons or even salvaged bathtubs.
  • Keep a pile of children’s picture books on your coffee table and read them instead of the newspaper.
  • Go to museums, art galleries and arts and crafts fairs. Talk to the artists about creative processes and products.
  • Go to book talks at libraries, bookstores, and schools. Join a book club.
  • Redecorate your house, apartment, or dorm room. Even just repainting the walls, a relatively inexpensive project, will dramatically change your surroundings, and stimulate your creativity.
  • Keep toys, pictures, and found objects on your desk.
  • Go on hikes and bike rides. Spend time in nature.
  • Try cooking a meal with leftovers, ingredients you’ve never used before, or simply whatever you find in your refrigerator or pantry.
  • If you like rock music, go to the opera or ballet. If you like classical music, go see a jazz, rock, or Ska group.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • If you’re short on money, try making your clothes, or buying them at a resale shops, putting together unique outfits.
  • Dye your hair a different color.

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